Now that Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, some political analysts are wondering whether Religious Right groups that bashed the thrice-married real estate magnate and reality TV star during the primary season will now rally to his cause in the general election.
So far it looks like plenty of them will.
Most Religious Right groups backed U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins was particularly vocal, even suggesting that if Cruz did not win there will never be another presidential election in the United States. (Yep, he actually said that.)
Then there was the American Family Association (AFA), which railed against Trump repeatedly for months. Back in February, AFA released a “voter guide” that classified Trump as a “moderate,” which is a dirty word to the Religious Right. The only candidate classified as “very conservative” was Cruz.
For good measure Bryan Fischer, host of a show on the American Family Association’s American Family Radio, said several months ago that Trump is absolutely not in line with the far-right agenda.
“Here’s the sobering reality: if Trump becomes our next president, conservatives will have to fight against him almost as hard as we’ve had to fight against [President Barack Obama],” Fischer declared in a column for AFA’s OneNewsNow.
Times sure have changed. Last week, OneNewsNow ran an interview with Sandy Rios, director of government affairs for AFA. Rios painted a dark picture under presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. She said a Clinton victory would result in “more overt persecution” and “a loss of religious freedom” for Christians.
She also warned that Clinton would appoint liberals to the Supreme Court, and that would pretty much usher in a police state.
“The next president will likely appoint three new justices,” Rios asserted. “And that means that the whole business of expressing our deeply held beliefs – in our businesses and our private entities like the American Family Association, like Christian radio – and…our conduct and even our thoughts will be criminalized. So it’s pretty bleak.”
As for Trump, well, he’s not so bad after all, Rios said. At the very least, Rios opined, Trump will be friendlier to the Religious Right than Clinton. Trump, Rios said, “would not be aggressive in the way [Clinton] is to criminalize [religious expression].”
The story goes on to quote Terry Schilling of the American Principles Project, who said Trump merely “misspoke” when he criticized North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” recently. Added Schilling, “I think that his passion is there and he's willing to fight – and that’s really what we need in 2016, is a fighter.”
So, after months of slamming Trump on a nearly daily basis, the AFA is now busy urging its folks to get with the program because the alternative is unthinkable.
Some, however, aren’t totally convinced that America’s budding theocrats will actually show up to vote if the choices are Trump or Clinton. The Washington Post had a story this week about evangelicals who feel “abandoned” by the Republican Party.
“I got the idea of ‘Who would Jesus have voted for, Herod or Pilate?’ – and probably neither one, and that’s where I feel we’re at here,” the Rev. Gary Fuller of Gentle Shepherd Baptist Church in Lincoln, Neb., told the newspaper.
But one thing was lacking from The Post piece. It didn’t feature any truly prominent Religious Right figures who said they would rather stay home than vote for Trump. Some are clearly laying the groundwork to urge their flocks to support him.
Just yesterday, the American Pastors Network (APN) asked: “Now that the presidential field has considerably narrowed, there’s a pressing question looming for some: ‘Will I vote the lesser of two evils or not vote at all?’”
Sam Rohrer, head of APN, didn’t endorse a candidate, but you’d have to be pretty dense not to figure out what he wants his followers to do.
Rohrer called for rejecting any candidate who fails to embrace “God-defined moral absolutes such as life, marriage and God-established human sexuality” and rejecting those that “embrace and pursue the killing of the unborn and marriage between any combination of people other than man and woman.” He added, “As Christians, we should support and vote for the candidate whose principles most closely align with what we believe, what the word of God teaches and what God’s expectations of a leader are.”
Certainly, there are evangelicals who are so unhappy with Trump that they won’t back him. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has written that he just can’t understand why so many of his allies were smitten with The Donald. It doesn’t look like Moore is changing his mind.
But for all the attack rhetoric the far right lobbed at Trump in recent months, those tents have folded pretty quickly in the face of reality. As far as the Religious Right is concerned, Trump is the lesser of two evils, and it looks like most leaders of that movement are climbing aboard his bandwagon.
In other words, it’s business as usual with the partisan hacks of the Religious Right. The party apparatus has given them their political marching orders, and they intend to follow them.